A mediation is scheduled today for a lawsuit by a former City of Pine Bluff employee who says she was unlawfully fired.
The lawsuit, brought by former employee LaTosha Moore-Harris against the city and three individual employees, is scheduled for mediation at 9 a.m. in Little Rock. Mediation is a voluntary process in which a third-party mediator tries to guide two conflicting parties to a mutually agreed settlement. It is often undertaken in an effort to avoid going to trial.
Either party can terminate the agreement at any point.
Should the two sides agree to a tentative settlement, the Pine Bluff City Council would have to vote to approve it in a special session. Assistant City Clerk Rosemary said Tuesday there would be a special called meeting for 4 p.m. today.
Moore-Harris alleges she suffered racial discrimination and retaliation for filing harassment complaints against her superior. According to her lawsuit, Moore-Harris was fired in May 2015 from her position as a jail deputy clerk in the district court. She appealed the firing, and was reinstated in July 2015 by the council.
Moore-Harris was fired a second time in October 2015 for subordination, according to the lawsuit. She appealed again to the council, which upheld the firing in January 2016.
In addition to the city, she is suing Pine Bluff District Court Clerk Veronica Young, City Attorney Althea Hadden-Scott and Pine Bluff District Court Judge John Kearney.
Arkansas Municipal League attorney Mike Mosley is representing the city in the mediation. Moore-Harris is represented by attorney Luther Sutton of Benton-based law firm Sutton & Gillham. The mediation will be conducted by ADR, Inc., a dispute-resolution firm in Little Rock.
The mediators would work to bring both sides to agreement on a settlement offer. Hadden-Scott said Mosley would evaluate a tentative settlement offer, then potentially bring it to the council.
“I don’t know that there’s going to be a settlement,” Hadden-Scott said. “We try to resolve it through mediation, and then if we’re not successful we go to trial.”
Aldermen Glen Brown, Sr. and Thelma Walker complained at Monday’s meeting of the Pine Bluff City Council, saying that scheduling the mediation in Little Rock means they would not be able to attend it, and that the council had little control over the proceedings. Hadden-Scott said she would contact Mosley to ask about moving the negotiations, but as of Tuesday afternoon, the meeting was still on for Little Rock.
“We did discuss that today,” Mosley said. “And this has already been set. People’s schedules have been arranged for this. Anything the council wants to discuss about the mediation, I will discuss with them in a special council meeting. No one’s being left out.”
Moore-Harris alleges that she was initially fired two weeks after filing a harassment complaint with the City of Pine Bluff Human Resources against Young. After her reinstatement, Moore-Harris alleges that Young retaliated against her by standing over her, “barking out orders” and ridiculing her in front of others; changing her job duties without telling her, and later denying it; and “changing office procedures as they applied to Plaintiff.”
Young told the Commercial in January that she did not retaliate.
“There was no retaliation,” Young said. “The same issues and problems we had concerning Ms. Harris’ work performance prior to her termination were the same issues we had when she returned to work.”
Young told the Commercial that she did not discriminate against Moore-Harris. She said she is also black. Their office was more than 50 percent black during Moore-Harris’s employment, she said.
Moore-Harris, who is black, said she filed a claim around Aug. 28, 2015, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, according to the lawsuit. The commission issued her a “Dismissal and Notice of Rights” letter dated Sept. 1, which gave Moore-Harris the right to sue her employer within 90 days.
She alleges that she filed a grievance with City of Pine Bluff Human Resources Director Vicki Conway to complain of her treatment after she was reinstated. But she said Conway refused to hold a hearing on the grievance because Hadden-Scott and Kearney agreed she should be terminated because she had sued the city, thus denying her due process.
Moore-Harris alleges that Hadden-Scott and Kearney argued against her reinstatement at a public meeting of the City Council, which upheld her termination. She alleges that Hadden-Scott and Kearney “agreed Plaintiff should not receive any notice about the hearing before the City Council,” which constituted a conspiracy to deny her due process.
She alleges she has suffered damages in the form of lost income, humiliation and mental anguish. She is asking to be reinstated to her job, as well as receive back pay, compensatory damage, punitive damage, legal expenses, injunctive relief to prevent the city and the other defendants from “further acts of discrimination and retaliatory conduct,” and for all other equitable, legal and just relief.